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The Dalles Jack Robertson was a Wasco County deputy in the early 1970s when The Dalles was the center of the Bigfoot universe.
When several reportedly credible sightings of the long-sought-after creature were reported around Crate’s Point it drew famed Bigfoot seeker Peter Byrne to The Dalles, where he set up his World Bigfoot Center.
Robertson, a longtime game hunter, found the idea of Bigfoot believable.
“He was serious about it. He really was,” said Donna Robertson, Jack’s widow. “And I think he conveyed that to Peter.”
Today, Sheriff Rick Eiesland and his deputies chuckle at the idea of the sheriff’s office taking up the question. Eisland said he hasn’t received a local Bigfoot report in his time as sheriff, though he willingly checked the log, and quizzed the office clerk and deputies to make sure.
He’s not sure he would do anything if he did receive a report.
“Probably nothing,” Eiseland said. “There’s no crime. If they reported they saw a Bigfoot, we could call the Enquirer. Would we go out and investigate it? No.”
Personally, Eiesland is skeptical.
“Wouldn’t you think, with all the people out in the woods, more people would see them? Though I’m not saying they’re not there.”
In the early 1970s, the attitude was decidedly different.
“It was the top priority, I think,” said Donna Robertson.
Most of the sheriff’s staff directly involved with the Bigfoot effort at the time are no longer living, including Robertson, Sheriff Ernie Mosier, and Dep. Richard Carlson.
Peter Byrne, speaking Thursday, April 5, at his home on the Oregon Coast, said Mosier had reason to believe.
“[Mosier] put me onto Oliver Potter, the jailor,” Byrne said. “Two of the people at [the sheriff’s office] had sightings. One was Harry Gilpin. The other was Oliver Potter, who was fishing on the Wind River early one Saturday morning. The thing walked right out on the bank, looked at him and stood there.”
Gilpin, Byrne recalled, was driving on Interstate 84 when he saw what he at first thought was a man crossing. Gilpin slowed down. “He said Bigfoot walked [not climbed] over the center divider.”
Mosier found the men credible, and so did Byrne.
The famous 1971 sightings at Crate’s Point are documented not only in Byrne’s book, but in a May 10, 1973 article in Rolling Stone Magazine by Tim Cahill.
The first sighting was by Joe Mederios, a maintenance man at Pinewood Mobile Manor when he was alone. During his second sighting, he was in the company of several businessmen.
“The next day, around noon, the three businessmen met Mederios and were in the midst of discussions in a trailer office fronting the meadow when Mederios again saw an erect ape-like figure through the window,” Cahill wrote. “The four men ran outside and watched from across the road as it moved through a break in the ridge and came into the lower meadow, where it walked among the sparse scrub oak near the rocks. It stopped near a small tree, and from where the men stood, it appeared ot be somewhat taller than the tree. The four men and the other creature stared at one another for perhaps a minute, before it turned, went up through the break in the rocks and disappeared into the upper meadow. This time the sighting was reported and Deputy Carlson went out to investigate.”
That night, returning home to Pinewood Mobile Manor, a music teacher and his wife reported seeing the creature too, frozen in their headlights, 65 yards away.
“The creature froze and stared into the lights. [The man] sprinted for his trailer, grabbed a Winchester 30.06 with a four-power scope. He opened his car door and steadied the rifle. He considered a shot at the heart, then the head. With the Scope crosshairs squarely between the thing’s expressionless flat black eyes, he released the safety. Like any good marksman, [he] squeezes the trigger slowly. In the moment between the final squeeze and the shot [the man], who had just come from a church, made a complicated moral decision.
“I couldn’t shoot it,” he said, “because it looked more human than animal.”
Speculation at the time was that Crate’s Point offered location for the creature to cross the Columbia River at a narrow point where an island broke up the span.
Byrne used to visit an old couple who lived on a farm at Crate’s Point.
“One day [the wife] said, ‘We had a gorilla walk through here years ago,’” Byrne related. “’A man worked for us here and lived in a little house. He came in and said a gorilla had walked past. The second time, he said ‘I’m leaving.’’ I asked them when that was, they said about 1920.”
The local people weren’t the first, nor would they be the last to tell stories of Bigfoot.
The local Native Americans had a name for the ridge that sits just opposite Crate’s Point in Klickitat County.
“They called it Whistling Ape Ridge,” Byrne said. “I met some people who lived there at the time and for the Indians part of the legend is that these things whistle.”
Flora Thompson called Bigfoot “Omah.” During Cahill’s visit to The Dalles, Flora Thompson, widow of Chief Tommy Thompson, told him legends of the Wy-am people that say “at one time before men, all animals were people and were giants. Coyote was the Changer who dug a trench from the great eastern lake to the ocean so salmon could swim upstream. In this way Coyote made the earth fit for man.
“In the Changing Time, just after there were men, there was another beast.”
The beast was much like Omah, female and named Tlat-ta-chee-ah.
“We tell the bad children than she will come to eat them if they don’t behave.”
Explorer David Thompson, made note of unexplained tracks “of a large animal … the whole is about 14 inches by 8 inches wide” near Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Several months later, he reported following similar tracks for nearly 100 yards and heard from Indians of the day that the headwaters of the river were known as an abode of apes “or more very large animals.”
Signs of Bigfoot continue into modern times.
“I’ve been dealing with this entity for quite a while,” said Cliff Ellis of Goldendale. “I think everybody’s got a different rationale. My philosophy is this is actually a physical animal that’s got powers we don’t understand with our dull, human senses.”
Ellis, a longtime outdoorsman, says he worked with television journalist Grant McOmie on a series on Bigfoot back in the early 1990s. He reports seven contacts going back to 1982.
“My wife things I’m a magnet for these things,” he said. “I do too.”
The first was while deer hunting on Mt. Adams. He was sitting Indian-style, watching a game trail when he heard movement 30 yard above him.
“It sounded like a man, but I was in an area with no other humans around except my hunting buddy, who I learned later was already in the car,” Ellis said.
While he sat, he says the creature heaved a rock at least 20 pounds in weight from 20 to 30 yards above him. “He threw it through the limbs of the trees with a pretty good arc.”
For Ellis, that event, along with track sightings, screams and other vocalizations, finding scat and smelling their “raw, heavy, musty, garbagy” smell during other visits to the woods add up to a compelling package.
“My goal is to have a visual sighting,” Ellis said, however his wife had her “final straw” last August when the couple went camping near Lolly Lake at Mt. Adams.
“The first night was pretty uneventful,” Ellis said. “The second night, I was asleep in the tent and I got up about 1 a.m. and the hair was standing on the back of my neck. My sixth sense was kicking.”
Ellis had a pistol, more for protection from problem humans than anything else. He says he went out to confront the danger and parked himself against a tree in the shadows.
“The fear was so intense I was shaking. I started to load the pistol quietly against the tree.”
At first, Ellis thought the movement about 28 yards away was elk, then he heard the massive “boom, boom” of big footsteps.
“You can’t even imagine the sound,” he said.
The noise brought his wife out with a 12-gauge shotgun.
The next morning, Ellis said he walked down to the lake and found footprints he estimated were about 14½ inches long. He took photos of the footprints, but hadn’t sent them to the newspaper by press time.
Darin Richardson, a former The Dalles resident, said he was a skeptic until he had his first sighting in 1991 at Mineral Lake near Mt. Rainier. He was doing a Civil War re-enactment when he got lost heading back to camp, ending up near an abandoned railroad track.
“I smelled something really nasty. A skunk, maybe? Then this thing came up out of a ditch, took off and ran over the railroad track in a combined leap and stride,” Richardson said. “I went back 17 years later, and tried to imitate his walk.”
He and his brother, Kevin, sketched the creature from Richardson’s memory.
Richardson was living in a room that backed up to the ravine where Chenowith Creek ran in 2007 and 2008, when he noticed strange behavior from his cat. The normally brave pet would cower behind the bed at times.
“These things — these beings — were coming up onto the property and eating the peaches off the tree,” Richardson said. “My roommate saw them a couple of times and I actually recorded a howl.”
Another tenant on the property was startled when she found one looking in the bathroom window, Richardson wrote in his book, “Bigfoot and I.”
Richardson took a plaster casting of the footprint, which he photographed and measured at 13 inches, but the casting broke at removal and he has only photographs.
Richardson also recorded long segments of screams he attributes to Bigfoot.
“I had them analyzed and they ruled out fox and coyote,” he said.
Richardson thinks they lived near the ravine at the time and used to come onto the property to feed on fruit from the peach trees.
Richardson had what he described as a second sighting — “sort of” — in November 2007, when he was home alone watching TV.
“I heard a ‘whap’ on the side of the house, like a slap, and it rattled the pictures and stuff in the room. I went outside and the smell was overpowering, like he was right on top of me.”
He called his friend, also a Bigfoot researcher, and she told Richardson to go outside, to the bottom of the stairs and sit cross-legged on the ground. He did as told and put his hands out palms up to show he wasn’t threatening.
“Fifty feet away, I could see eyes,” Richardson said. They reflected red in the ambient light from the moon. He didn’t see fear or apprehension, just attention to Richardson as he observed. “If this thing wanted to kill me, it could have walked two steps.” The eyes disappeared when a car came up the nearby street.
While Richardson spent the better part of two decades on his quest to see and document the creatures, he has since backed away from the effort.
“I’ve seen more than one sighting — sort of. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I know it’s real. They’re out there and want to be left alone.”